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Incoming Navajo Lawmakers Hear Restructuring Plans

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—Incoming Navajo lawmakers are considering how to restructure the tribal council that was downsized from 88 members to 24 members.

Presenters asked the new council to keep in mind the financial constraints due to a budget shortfall, the desires of the Navajo people and the impact on interactions with the tribe’s executive and judicial branches.

“The word is collegiality, not divisions,” said Robert Yazzie, executive director of Diné Policy Institute at Diné College. “That means leaders working with leaders, talking with each other. We tell each other, ‘We have a new beginning.’ What does that mean?”

The tribe’s high court put the authority to restructure the committees in the hands of the new council after validating a special election that reduced the number of members, who were sworn in Jan. 11.

Navajos voted a year ago to cut the size of the council in the first successful ballot initiative for the tribe. It also was the first time Navajos had a say in how their government should be structured.

Incoming lawmaker Russell Begay favored an entirely new structure that focuses on what Navajos determine is most needed, such as economic development.

In restructuring, the council will have to consider whether amendments to the law are needed. Under the current law, each council delegate cannot be appointed to more than one committee.

The committees oversee anything from transportation, resources and health to public safety and the tribal budget.

Analysts with Diné College say organizing 24 members into the existing 12 standing committees is unfeasible with what they expect to be an increased workload and more time on the road serving constituents. But delegates questioned whether all the committees are necessary and whether some of the micromanaging could be eliminated, while others were hesitant in wanting to give up authority reserved for the committees.

Delegates disagreed on whether Navajos would have to ratify any changes.

A task force of current council delegates recommended that the incoming council spend two weeks developing options for committee restructuring after it’s seated. Task force member Leonard Chee said any amendments should be numerically related to the reduction and retain the powers, duties and responsibilities of the committees.

But, he added, “those are just recommendations. What you do with them as a 22nd council is your call.”

The lawmakers also heard recommendations on how to restructure during an orientation session in Flagstaff. Among the suggestions:
•Consolidate the 12 standing committees into four committees with similar policy areas.
•Have a single committee in which the council hears all legislation but would lose specialization in specific policy areas.
•Focus on a traditional leadership model in which the council holds public hearings before drafting legislation and taking it back to constituents for input before voting on it. Yazzie said that would focus the council on its legislative responsibilities, rather than administrative issues.